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Green and Simple: ACPS Students Learn in Forum for the Eco-Minded

Students at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School put energy and enthusiasm to work on environmental activities

As the school year winds down, so do the many after-school activities offered throughout the year. This week marks the end of the environmental club in which my third grader, Priya, has been participating since February.

It has been such a thrill for her to be engaged in a club focused on earth-friendly activities. Priya says it is one of her favorite activities and likes the fact that “we had fun and also learned.”

The club is part of an initiative of the Alexandria City Public School system that launched in March 2010. It designates an environmental steward for each school. The stewards engage students in sustainability-focused activities in their classrooms, cafeterias and beyond. The club at my daughter’s school, Douglas MacArthur Elementary, is open to students in grades 3 – 5 and has 24 students. (My rising second grader is disappointed that she will need to wait another year before she can participate.)

The club is led by Paraprofessional Angie Moran who works with kindergarten and first grade special education students. She is also an environmentalist at heart. When environmental steward opportunities became available through ACPS, Moran was eager to obtain a post. Because of an already deep interest in all things natural that had been engrained in her since her youth, the role of environmental steward was a “natural” fit. Moran believes that we can all make decisions that make a difference for future generations. Her role as an environmental steward provides an opportunity to share that message with a wider audience and to have a broader impact.

For the past several months, eco-minded students who volunteered to be a part of the free club met for an hour after school each Tuesday to learn about key concepts such as recycling, repurposing, conservation and environmental awareness. Their learning was reinforced through discussions, demonstrations, and participation in activities based on important topics, including bottled water vs. tap water, composting and the use of sundials.

They also engaged in a number of school and community activities. They walked the runway at the , which was part of the city’s Earth Day Celebration, went on a walking field trip to the community gardens at Chinquapin, built a compost bin, a rain barrel and more.

In addition, the club has launched a number of recycling efforts through Terracycle.net.  Students have created collection stations throughout the school into which things like drink pouches and foil energy-bar wrappers are stuffed. The wrappers are shipped to Terracycle free of charge and are recycled and/or repurposed into new items. In addition to reducing waste, the school receives a donation of 2 cents for each item sent in. The school has collected approximately 4,000 drink pouches!

I joined the club for the last session and chatted with the students about what the club means to them and what they have learned. Many spoke of new friendships and the opportunity to spend time with other kids who also wanted to learn more about the environment. Here are a few of their comments:

  • J'ANae Corban, 4th grade, enjoyed doing projects like collecting items for Terracycle and building a rain barrel. She shared that, "seeing everyone be happy together is very nice."
  • Fernanda Vasquez, 4th grade, had been thinking about learning more about the environment on her own and then she heard about the group and got really excited. She said she learned more than she expected.
  • Megan Lunini, 5th grade, says when she moves on to middle school next year, she will "miss getting to learn about the environment while having fun and meeting new people. Ms. Moran is awesome and is a great teacher!"
  • Louay Abdelsadig, 3rd grade, says he really enjoyed the projects, the field trip and having lots of friends in the club. He has been trying to plant a garden and was excited to be around people who might have ideas.
  • Timothy Sellers, 4th grade, liked learning about the differences between bottled water and tap water.  He also enjoyed learning about the different parts of plants, how they grow and how they help the environment.
  • Connor McGivern, 5th grade, shared that when he goes to middle school, he will miss the projects like building a rain barrel, a composter and the Trashion Show.

Moran's favorite part of being an environmental steward is the "dedication and passion of the students." As the group returned from the garden field trip last week, a student shared that she wanted to be an environmental steward when she grows up. Moran let her know that she already is one. She also appreciates the support and enthusiasm of the parents and PTA, without which, the club wouldn't be nearly as engaging.

Looking to next year, Moran has secured a PTA liaison and two teachers to serve an Environmental Club Committee. Four parents have also volunteered to serve on the committee and to chair sub-committees in the fall. Based on the interest expressed by the kids, I suspect she will need the reinforcements.

At the end of the session, the students were asked what was not covered that they wished had been. There was no shortage of hands in the air expressing ideas from growing food to eat at school to helping the animals affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. These kids are inspired, full of energy and ready to get involved. I, for one, am thankful to Moran for providing an environment in which they can thrive!

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